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Friday, April 30, 2010

Sweet break in the snow and coyote social behavior

This morning, K and I took a mountain bike ride in the blustery sub-freezing air. You'd never guess that it was almost May here. Near the start of our ride, something invisible to me irked K - perhaps it was a wild animal or the one other trail user. To get her attention, I asked her to sit and look at me. You can tell by the photo that, although she was following my instructions, her ears, nose, and mind were focused elsewhere.
When I ride with K, I often stop to play with her or do a little training. Today, we worked on a trick where she puts her front paws on a tree and stays bipedal until I release her. She learned to hold it for a few seconds but not longer. I wonder if it's too stressful for her body to hold it?
Then, as I checked a favorite path of our big male mountain lion for tracks or other signs, K volunteered one of the many tricks that I've taught her to do on downed trees.
I think that the lion loves to lie in wait in this cluttered area because the deer walk through it to get a drink of water, and the jumble of wind-fallen trees provides the lion with many hiding places. We didn't see signs of him today.

After riding with K, I left her at home to snooze and rode the only loop that I thought might be snow-free. First, I passed a meadow that usually has mountains behind it. Today, a veil of clouds hid the towering peaks. Also, for the first time in weeks, all the summer birds had abandoned the meadow. They probably fled to lower elevations because the temperature hovered slightly above 20 deg F. An insect-eating bird, like a bluebird or a swallow, can't find breakfast in that kind of cold!
The willows lining the meadow showed signs of awakening. Some of their catkins had begun to bloom iridescent yellow through the gray fuzz that covers nascent catkins. Birds, bears, and other wildlife all eat willow and aspen catkins in early spring so these furry flowers were a welcome sight.
As I rode on 4wd roads toward a ridge whose snow melts very quickly after a spring storm, the sheer quantities of water flowing down every slope astounded me. I think that this was the wettest that I've ever seen our meadows and forests.
A closer look revealed that the surface of much of the water had frozen overnight and hadn't yet thawed.
When I finally hit the ridge, the trails were ideal! The sun and wind had obliterated any evidence of the snow.
The storms sitting on the horizon made the foothills look smokey and ominous.
Just before leaving the ridge, I rolled through a forested area where the snow remained, and I discovered that many animals hang out on the same ridge as I do after a spring snow. My favorite, a bobcat, had strutted along the trail. He also left numerous scent markings consisting of scraped pine needles and snow, sometimes topped with scat.
After the bobcat's tracks peeled away from the trail, I saw the tracks of elk, deer, coyotes, and turkeys. I love having tangible signs that these wild animals had tramped along the same path as my bike tires.

I arrived home as the snow started falling, and I discovered that the wildlife cameras in our clearing had recorded another fascinating coyote interaction a couple of nights ago. One coyote had foraged under our birdfeeders for a long time when a more dominant coyote arrived. Watch the body language of the submissive coyote as he used a slinking gait to go greet his pack superior. Then, watch his obsequious behavior as he interacted with the more dominant coyote. He groveled, following the other coyote around and throwing himself on the ground while licking the chin of the other coyote.

I wish that the cameras had captured the initial meeting of the two. However, I found the behavior of the submissive coyote to be so familiar. It fits exactly how a very under-confident dog greets humans or other dogs.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Springtime snow wimp

I have to admit it - I'm a springtime snow wimp. When I saw another layer of fresh snow this morning, I turned over and went back to sleep. Because I've banned myself from snowbiking this season to avoid hurting my recovering neck, I hiked with the pups today rather than riding outside. However, R seemed more interested in snoozing.

"Um, could you fluff my pillow please?", he seemed to say as I put on my snow hiking gear.
We headed out into an admittedly beautiful snowy scene. The sky beamed light blue with wispy clouds overhead. R gave me a funny look early in the hike.
We started on established trails so that the duo could work off their excess energy by romping with abandon.
K climbed a boulder for a better view when we heard the yapping of a large group of dogs and their human passing well below us on a trail.
Then, we started exploring an area that I feel certain will be popular bear habitat if spring ever truly blooms. It is a hidden valley of pole-sized aspen trees with a few gargantuan Ponderosa Pines mixed in. Those pines would provide great refuge trees for the bears to climb if they felt threatened while foraging in the aspen groves.
I found a towering pine tree skeleton towering in the aspen grove and looked at its dead wood closely for bear claw marks.
I found too many sets of bear claw marks to count. A zillion bears have climbed this dead tree or clawed at it over the years.
From the top of the bear tree, I think that this view of the mountains would be even more beautiful. I didn't climb to find out!
After tromping for quite a while, we found our first sign of recent animal activity. Deer tracks!
The tracks were extraordinarily fresh so I guessed that the deer had passed this spot within the hour. Because I've learned recently that doing a sit-stay calms R, I had the dogs do a sit-stay on the tracks.
Then, we backtracked the deer briefly with the duo on leash, and we found where the deer bedded down during the storm. Three bare spots stood out under the pine canopy. I had K sit next to one of them to give a sense of size.
The deer were shedding like crazy, leaving tufts of fur in their beds.
We practiced another stay in this spot that must have reeked of deer for the duo. I wish that I'd discovered sooner how much doing a stay calms R in extremely exciting settings. He didn't even pull on his leash toward the tracks after he did a stay.
After our exhilarating hike, we stayed in the warmth of the house due to the wintery cold outside. But, we took a sunset hike...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A jump on spring and BEAR video

Yesterday, I had the chance to explore territory about 2500' lower than where I normally ride and hike.
For every 1000' lower I go, spring is 10 days further along. Thus, yesterday's hike featured flowers that won't bloom until a few weeks from now up here. For example, showy chokecherry blossoms adorned the hillsides down in the lower terrain. After pollination, these blossoms become chokecherries, which the bears love to eat as they fatten up in late summer.
This morning, I was back at my normal elevation and searching for snow-free trails to ride. I had a glorious ride because, to my surprise, most of the 18" of snow that dropped in the past week had melted from some trails.
Beneath the snow, new wildflowers had sprouted, much to my surprise. The melted snow exposed a sand lily!
And, a red-colored finch, probably a Cassin's finch, chirped from an aspen tree. These finches only live in our mountains during the spring and summer.
Alas, more stormy weather is on the way. This afternoon, K's ears flapped wildly in the wind as the storm front moved in from behind her during our hike.
She and R found dry ground for romping.
And, they found a snowcone stand! Snowcones are so refreshing after raucous romping.
The dogs' body language informed me that the animal scents were intense. Look at the duo below! Just like yesterday, we did some training when the dogs were hyped about the scents. Roxanne asked about whether I think that this training actually helps when the animals see wildlife fleeing. I think that it does because I believe that dogs rely on scent like we rely on vision. So, sniffing the animal's scent is almost like being next to the animal for dogs.I know that bears are active down at lower elevations so I kept R on a leash to prevent a snout-to-snout meeting. Moreover, you can see the duo is sitting on a bunch of pine boughs recently stripped off a pine sapling. Bears wreak havoc on saplings so I wondered if an ursine had done this work.

Because I had bears on my mind today, I put together another video from outside the den occupied by a sow and her yearling cubs. It's amazing - on one afternoon in late March, the trio woke up, after barely stirring for months, and proceeded to play maniacally for hours. This is one nine minute segment (reduced to 3 min) that started a couple of hours after their play began. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Turkey dogs

Our R can go from sound asleep... 40 mph in less than 5 seconds, especially if we're on the trail of wild turkeys.
As we hiked today, we wild found turkey tracks for the second time this week near our house. At least two turkeys walked together through our snowbound forest.
The Labraduo thought that turkey scent meant bird hunting. They became insanely excited, as you might expect for a pair of bird dogs. Sorry, you goofy dogs! Instead, it meant that we practiced obedience right next to the turkey scent. This is a frequent strategy of mine - practicing stays and recalls in the presence of the most exciting scents. I think that this training helps my dogs behave when we meet the real animal face-to-face in our forest!

Here, the duo did a stay almost directly over the turkey tracks. Notice that NO eyes are on me. That's OK - they stayed!
It's finally spring here again. Even the mule deer are shedding their antlers so they can grow new velvety ones before fall. And, look at the green emerging from under the snow.
Yipee for springtime!!!!

Monday, April 26, 2010

So There, Mr. Truck Driver!

I woke up and peered at the skylights to see if we'd had more snow. I didn't like the answer the snow-shuttered glass panes gave me. But, then I glanced toward the east. Wow.
When I walked outside to decide whether I could ride my bike, a pristine white and blue world met me.
I perused our dirt road, and the snow hadn't started melting yet. With my gnarly studded tires, I felt certain that I could ride my mountain bike on the road. I rushed back to the house, donned my cycling gear, and headed out. Alas, while I'd been changing clothes, the road had turned into a roux of mud and slush, interrupted by an occasional pond of brown slushy water.

Most drivers around here are incredibly kind, giving me lots of room, and trying not to spray me with road slush. Some drivers even stop to let me cross a slush pond ahead of them to avoid spraying me. So, today, when a pickup truck driver stopped on the opposite side of a muddy slush pond and waved me to go through it, I initially thought "What a nice guy!".

But, his intentions were not as kind as I thought. He was setting me up for a mud and slush shower. As I started to pedal through the abyss, he accelerated directly toward me and swerved away at the last minute, covering me in a spray of muddy slush from head to toe. A not-so-nice string of words poured out of my mouth but I refrained from saluting him. A multi-ton truck will always win over a bike.

I was soaked to the bone, covered in mud, and couldn't see through the sludge on my sunglasses. It took a mighty mental struggle not to head directly home. But, I reasoned that if I aborted my ride, the idiot in the truck would have won. So, I kept riding, and the intense sun began to dry my clothes. By the end of the ride, I was comfortable again and having FUN. So there, Mr. Truck Driver!

The main reason why I went out on my bike in such horrid conditions was that I thought that my recent neck flareup had been caused by a snow-induced layoff from outdoor riding. It seems as if I was right. I felt the muscle knots ease while I rode, and they haven't returned. So there, Mr. Truck Driver!

Once I'd wiped the sludge off my glasses and had started to dry, I noticed the beauty of the world around me. The snowy and cloud-veiled mountains:
A half-thawed pond with two barely visible ducks paddling in it. Those are hardy souls!
By the time I finished my ride, the blue sky had turned to gray and snow drifted down from it. I took off my entire outer layer in the basement and stowed it in a garbage bag for direct transport to the washer.

In the subdued light of a mild storm, the Labraduo and I went for a wander. They obsessed over rodents. R stood with his ears cocked and then pounced like a coyote. He started digging and K soon assisted him.
K quickly lost interest but R had to be lured away from the hole. I suspect that there was a rodent under there somewhere!
Near a viewpoint, the duo practiced a sit-stay. R has finally matured enough to reliably hold stays for me in the forest. It's such a convenient skill for a dog to have.
I asked him to hold another stay a little later in front of a fabulous view. However, I don't think that it's possible to capture the details of a black dog's face AND the bright mountain background. So, this photo lets you see our handsome boy.
We meandered through aspen groves, and found a nest hole that a Flicker pair was renovating. They'd pulled a lot of dried grass and other nest material out of the hole, and it littered the ground below the tree. For many years, Williamson's Sapsuckers nested in this hole. Last year, the Sapsuckers moved to a tree about 20 yards away because the Flickers had usurped the prime nest site.
Actually, I'm surprised that it's a prime site. Look at the bear claw marks climbing up to it. Perhaps the cavity is too deep for a bear tongue to steal eggs or nestlings.
When I arrived home, I discovered interesting coyote interactions recorded on my wildlife cameras. A lone coyote often forages under our birdfeeders at night. Two nights ago, a second coyote arrived and immediately started badgering the lone, and probably less dominant, coyote. The aggressor briefly departed, and then returned, making a beeline straight for the lone coyote. I found the similarities to dog body language to be uncanny. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunset in the snow

Yesterday's sun sculpted our spring snow, creating waves, ripples, and craters.
When the sun falls low in the sky, the wet snow forms a crust that dogs love to wriggle in!
And, when the spirit moves them, the Labraduo love to sprint through the snow.
We climbed up to a ridge, following an orderly set of tracks.
Do you know who made those tracks? The much maligned coyote... although I love our coyotes. They're our wild canines! Moreover, they probably have pups in their dens now so pack members have to work doubletime catching food and regurgitating it for the nursing mother who rarely leaves the den.
When we reached the apogee of our hike, we gazed at the sun falling low among the mountain clouds while the dogs sniffed the scents flowing from the Divide.
After a rough day of neck pain, views like those soothe the soul.